Think of cruise ships a bit like nomads. They roam the waters from port to port, many visiting more than one area of the world per year. When the seasons change, ships tend to relocate (or reposition) to chase the warm weather -- for example, a ship moving its itineraries in the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. When ships sail across oceans or change seasonal homeports, their one-off, one-way itineraries -- dubbed repositioning cruises -- offer a chance for passengers to sail a new, offbeat route, often at a lower-than-average price.
As exciting as they sound, "repo" cruises aren't for everyone. We answer common questions about these unique itineraries to help you determine if one is right for you.
You can visit broad swaths of the Caribbean or an entire coastline all at once, cross the Atlantic with pit stops in off-the-beaten-path places like Greenland, or hit several cruise regions and continents on one trip. That might sound like a busy schedule, but it's actually not. Repositioning cruises often incorporate a multitude of sea days, offering a more relaxing vacation without hectic, back-to-back port calls. Itching to try a new cruise line? A handful of ships sail two- to three-night repo cruises (many of which are along the California coast or from Seattle to Vancouver) that are great for sampling.
For some passengers, spending days on end in the middle of nowhere -- particularly on ocean crossings -- is more maddening than relaxing. Repositioning cruises also tend to be long (some nearly a month), which often limits them to retired seafarers and the lucky few with a hefty amount of vacation time. Also, the one-way nature of the cruises means you'll need to book one-way or open-jaw flights, which can be more expensive than roundtrip airfare.
Per-diem rates for repositioning cruises are often much lower than they are for "regular" sailings. That's because they're not as universally appealing due to the reasons mentioned above. Plus, you can snag a good daily rate on the cruise, but the total fare could still be high -- in addition to potentially pricey one-way airfare. Be on the lookout for cruise deals that include airfare or shorter repo sailings, which offer even better value.
As you make your way from one region to another, temperatures are bound to fluctuate. The weather on a repo cruise depends on where and when you go, and always involves slightly more thoughtful packing. For example, a ship sailing from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean during fall will kick off with brisk weather but end in a warm, humid climate. Bear in mind: Ocean crossings can mean a bumpier ride, especially on smaller ships. It's a good idea to have some type of seasickness remedy on hand, even if you're not typically sensitive to motion.
The best ship is the one whose onboard vibe, activities and entertainment jive with your personality. The last thing you want is to be bored when you're out at sea, days away from your next port of call. Active types would fare well with lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, while those interested in a more laidback atmosphere should consider Celebrity, Princess, Holland America or -- if you've got room to splurge -- a luxury line like Silversea or Crystal Cruises. Some lines also spice up their repo itineraries with themes, such as food and wine or bridge, which makes for a fun opportunity to learn something new or simply spend your sea days relishing a hobby you love.
Look to regions that have very specific annual seasons. For example, ships that spend summertime in Alaska have no choice but to relocate come September, and they frequently offer unique itineraries along the coast of California, across the Pacific to Hawaii or through the Panama Canal. (They travel the opposite route in the springtime.) Also look for transatlantic cruises as ships reposition from U.S. East Coast ports (like New York and Fort Lauderdale) to Europe for a season of Mediterranean or Northern European sailings and then come back for Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda cruises in the colder months. This often happens in fall and spring. Other repositioning itineraries journey to Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa. See some of our favorite upcoming repositioning cruises here.
Updated August 21, 2018